Today, poetry pals, we are chatting with Wendy Bourke, of Words and Words and Whatnot, who has been contemplating the question: What to do with all that poetry! I am sure we all have a ton of it, tucked away in journals and drawers. Wendy and I chatted about some ideas that may prove useful. We hope to hear what you do with your poetry in the comments!
Sherry: Thanks for thinking of this topic, Wendy. I am sure all of us have reams of poems, in drawers and totes, on cd’s and thumb drives. What to do with it all?
Wendy: While trying to get a handle on organizing the mountain of poetry I have produced throughout my life, I came upon the following piece, that I had written in 2016
~ poetry ~
I wandered, in the hustling, unfamiliar city
on whizzing roads, through concrete mazes
in peaceful, bright spirits and spacey hazes,
that, often, accompanies a dreamy ramble through
the frenzy and the fuss that modernity confers …
as image after image, on the shifting canvas,
gifted me with snippets of scent and sound,
abracadabra’ed with bits of memory and emotion ...
impressions ... that bloomed like garland blossoms
strung together, with words that floated, as free
and natural, as notes of birdsong on a breeze
~ poetry ~
And as I read this poem, plucked from a pile of many, many other poems, I thought to myself: 'for poets, poetry is everywhere ... figuratively ... and literally' ~ smiles ~
The first couple of years that I blogged, I saved my poems in scrapbooks ~ mistake ~ for a myriad of reasons I won't waste time going into here. Then, when I finally switched to putting them in binders, I filed them chronologically ... which worked fine ... for about a year. Who can remember if a poem was penned in 2008 or 2013? I found myself back-and-forthing through good poems and poems in need of a redo – over and over and over. And I got to the point (which is where I am now ... drowning in a sea of poems) where it became clear, that I really have to give some thought to my archiving options, before putting any more effort into yet another badly thought out direction.
It occurred to me that it might be helpful to share some methods I've employed (in my endless trial-and-error approach) that I have found beneficial ... and ask for input and info from fellow poets, about what has worked for them. Basically I want to hit the pause button and review and inquire into: 'What to do with all that poetry!'
Sherry: Let’s dive right in to this thorny topic!
Wendy: Keeping my poetry organized has been a real job, and I have often been dissappointed with the end results. I have read comments from other poets saying they have just about given up organizing their poetry.
Sherry: I hear you! I must have had a thousand poems written before I started blogging, and have written 2800 more online, according to Blogger. I have poems in notebooks, in drawers, loose in a tote. I began to get worried that when I die, my kids might inadvertently (or advertently, lol) send my life’s work to the landfill. Later, in this discussion, I will tell you how I resolved this.
Wendy: Well, let's begin at the beginning, Sherry ... which is publishing our poetry. Getting published by poetry publishers is very, very hard. I recently heard back from a publisher that had asked for submissions of one poem-per-poet. I was rejected, of course, but I took solace in the fact that so were the 5,538 'other' poets.
An organized approach can help. I once believed that volume-volume-volume was a good strategy, but (at least in my case) I have not found that to be very effective. That said, it really does make a difference if you put in the time, and read the kind of poetry that a potential publisher publishes. If it doesn't sound like a fit to your work, it won't be published.
I have found themed anthologies, or journals with a themed prompt, offer a much better chance of success. Also, new publishers (who do not have 20 years of email subscribers) are less overwhelmed with submissions. Organizations that are supported by membership fees such as The Tanka Society of America and The Ontario Poetry Society usually guarantee inclusion of at least one piece (though they ask for several to choose from).
Smaller pieces, such as Japanese and other, often niche, small-form poems, have several publication vehicles and include more pieces (therefore, much more publishing opportunity) in their hard copy and e-zine offerings. Occasionally a poetry forum will put together an anthology from poems that have appeared on their site – as was the case, fairly recently, with the d'Verse Anthology: Chiaroscuro.
Sherry: Poets United did a small anthology too, back in 2011. Anthologies are a lot of work, but very satisfying to members.
Many of us write mostly for ourselves and each other, and don’t bother submitting poems (though many of the more serious poets do, of course.) I have been more than happy that anyone comes along to read my poems on-site, LOL. I haven’t submitted work very often. I have work in only a half dozen anthologies.
But self-publishing is a great option, and I do know quite a bit about that.
Wendy: Self Published Books are a truly viable and, I am told, affordable option, which is why I'd love to learn more. Also, 'one-of' photo books that celebrate a grandchild or a wedding can be a lovely, and very personal, memento.
Sherry: I am all about self-publishing. I had a cancer scare some years back, (thankfully the tumor was benign), and my one regret then was that I had not archived my work. Since getting the all-clear, I have been using the self-publishing house lulu.com (there are many) to put my work into solid form for posterity. These companies offer affordable options, a choice of layouts and templates, hard cover and soft cover, coil or perfect bound, and I can assure you the result is an affordable, bookstore quality product.
I don’t try to sell mine, but many poets do, some very successfully. I create my books mainly as an archive, though a few are available for sale.
But one has the option of making their books available at both lulu.com and Amazon. You pay as you go, per volume, order as many or few as you like. They are reasonably priced, so you can add your margin to the actual cost of the book and not only reclaim your initial cost, but make a small profit, if that is your objective.
Also, you can put a link on your blog, your readers can click on it, and it takes them right to the publishing house and/or Amazon, where a reader can purchase the book directly. The writer doesn’t have to do anything but tuck away the small profits as they come in.
Wendy: Wow! That is awesome information, Sherry. Thanks for taking the time to lay that out so thoroughly for us. I feel like I'm ready to wade into the self-publishing waters now.
Sherry: All year long, as I am blogging, I enter each poem in a template (for poetry, I use the 6x9 inch US trade perfect bound paperback template). At the end of each year, I have a book of that year's poems to edit and publish. A 225-page book of poems (text only) costs about 10 dollars for paperback, more expensive for hardcover. The books are bookstore quality. I’ve been doing this for years.
I also have done some special editions of selected poems and stories, and plan a few more. And I have made some wonderful photo-books as gifts for loved ones. I enjoy doing those the most. They are much more expensive, but absolutely wonderful to give as a gift.
I have a small shelf of my own books now, and I feel satisfied that I have honoured my work in this way. (On the far left are three large photo books. Note coil bindings are also available. But the best format is publisher perfect bound, which I use for the poetry books.)
Wendy: Golly you've got a real handle on this thing, Sherry ... beautiful bookstore quality books that hold your life's work and lovely gifts for loved ones to treasure.
In addition to going the self-publishing route though, I think I will probably continue with my binders for several reasons:
- I like the flexibility to be able to rejig pieces that I don't feel are quite ready for publication.
- I like to be able to move pages around, so that similar themed poems are facing each other and I get a good idea of how a book would lay out, when published.
- I like to be able to include small coloured photographs, pertinent emails and comments and personal notes (i.e. I wrote this poem the last night we spent at the lake) that might give more meaning to the poem for others, as they come upon them.
Sherry: Oh, they sound like a treasure trove of memories. I envy you them!!!
Wendy: In a way, I guess, I think of my poetry binders almost like a journal of my poetry journey. If anyone reading this has not yet committed to hard copies of your work, I would urge you to give it some thought. Having worked as a University Academic Secretary for decades, I have lost track of the number of technical advances that have rendered the previous data storage device unretrievable.
As far as personalized binders go, I am a big fan. Online companies, like Zazzle, offer a plethora of imaged binders (everything from old tomes that look like something out of the middle ages to garden scenes to forests) which they personalize to your specifications. Of course, you can send in a photo you've taken and they will use that.
These binders are in the $40.00 range. (Mine were given to me as gifts from my family.) A binder with a clear window cover (that you can fill yourself) is a much cheaper option at around $10.00. I also am a big fan of clear sheet protectors (around $12.00 per 100). If you opt not to use them, you'll have to 3-hole punch your page, and that, with any pieces you may have taped to it, can quickly take on a tattered, messy appearance. I use double-sided tape (as many glues eventually dry, discolour and leach through the paper). I also insert thin card stock sheets between the pages of poetry. It just gives a nicer feel to what would, otherwise, be very wobbly pages. All of these supplies can be found at any Office Supply Store.
Before filling your binders, you should decide how you want to organize it. Chronologically (which has its pros and cons), by subject matter (such as nature, for example – blog labels are made for this), or perhaps (as I did) by my favourites (my 2 pink floral binders house the poems that mean the most to me (and here, movable pages really pay off, as time goes by ... lol)
Binder as a Working Journal
I think the main idea is that the poetry that you are most happy with, proud of, and that says something about who you are, should be archived in a special way and not left to languish amongst the do-overs ... or worse: can't be found at all. However you choose to archive your poetry, it should clearly indicate that it is poetry ... and not just a box (or binder) of papers.
Sherry: That is very key! (Am thinking of the landfill as the Last Resort of my work. Ack!)
Wendy: We put so much of ourselves into our poetry. We owe it to ourselves, to our family and friends, and to our descendants (who – you never know – might have a poetic bend and be curious about what Great-great-great grandma or grandpa wrote) ... Well, a poet can dream ...
Sherry: Yes, we dream, we dream……..my family tends to act as if my poetry is a slightly embarrassing aberration we don't talk about, but maybe once I’m gone, they’ll pop one of the covers. Smiles.
Thanks for this informative chat, Wendy. Friends, we would love to hear from you. Do you archive your work? In what format? Have you tried any of these options and, if so, how satisfied are you with the results? Let us know in your comments, okay?
And do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows, it might be you!